Olive oil has been part of cuisine and culture for thousands of years, ever since early Mediterranean communities started grinding the fruit of the Olea europaea and extracting the versatile oil. Since as early as 6000 B.C. it has been used in cooking, religious rituals, medicine, soaps, fuel and sport (imagine naked Spartans wrestling without first oiling up!)
Indeed it is hard to imagine any household pantry or restaurant kitchen that doesn’t have a healthy supply of olive oil, whether in its most refined form, extra virgin olive oil, (e.v.o.o.) or lower grades such as pomace, which are chiefly used for frying.
So it is not overly surprising that olive oil can be used for baking, too, especially considering the well-documented health benefits it possesses. Rich in monounsaturated fats such as oleic acid, and linked to a reduction in the risk of heart disease and reducing cholesterol and high in antioxidants like vitamin E, using olive oil in your desserts will have your guests reaching for a second serving guilt free.
Many great cooks pass by the butter and reach for a bottle of e.v.o.o. when making luscious desserts such as lemon olive oil cake. The soft aromatic fruitiness of the olive oil adds a touch of refined elegance that butter simply cannot match, and of course, olive oil can be used with impunity by vegan cooks with a sweet tooth.
Iconic Canadian Chef Christine Cushing has a new line of frozen desserts that feature 100% e.v.o.o. There are chocolate brownies, banana loaf and lemon fig bundt cake, all made without preservatives or additives.
“Greeks have been baking with olive oil for centuries, but even from my pastry chef days, my experience of baking with olive oil was limited to a few traditional recipes. It wasn’t until I started pairing my crisp, fruity olive oil with flavours of tropical banana, spicy bittersweet chocolate and fragrant figs, that I discovered this amazing flavour combination taking more familiar desserts to a whole new level, “says Cushing. “If the at-home cook had more time, these are the recipes they would make – I’m just giving them the convenience of freshly baked, preservative-free goods right in the freezer, ready when they need them.”
For those of you that are inspired by Cushing’s desserts and want to have a crack at making your own olive oil cake, we have tried this gem of a recipe by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clarke.
It’s perfect for a brunch, an afternoon tea or a midnight stroll to the refrigerator.
Orange Scented Olive Oil Cake
2 1⁄3 cups sugar
Unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
2 1⁄2 cups flour, plus more for pan
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 cup fresh orange juice
1⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
Sea salt, for garnish
- Trim about 1⁄2″ from the tops and bottoms of oranges; quarter oranges lengthwise. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan; add oranges. Bring water back to a boil; drain. Repeat boiling process twice more with fresh water.
- Put oranges, 1 cup sugar, and 4 cups water into a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, until sugar dissolves and orange rind can be easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature.
- Heat oven to 350°. Grease a 10″ round cake pan with butter and dust with flour; line pan bottom with parchment paper cut to fit. Set pan aside.
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.
- Remove orange quarters from syrup, remove and discard any seeds, and put oranges into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until oranges form a chunky purée, 10–12 pulses.
- Add remaining sugar, reserved flour mixture, vanilla, and eggs and process until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add olive oil; process until combined.
- Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40–45 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk orange juice and confectioners’ sugar to make a thin glaze. Remove cake from pan and transfer to a cake stand or plate. Using a pastry brush, brush orange glaze over top and sides of cake; let cool completely. Garnish cake with sea salt.